Hampton's Old District Schools -- Part 1

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By Anna May Cole

(Reprinted in Hampton Union-- June 1972)

Part 1

As you remember, Hampton was settled in 1638.

About ten years from that time when the region was an unbroken wilderness, in accordance with the law of the Province of Massachusetts, in whose jurisdiction the town lay, there being about fifty families in the settlement, a school was established.

The teacher, John Legat, had a lot on Wigwam Row (Exeter Road).

He was to instruct the youth of the town, "both mayle and femayle," who were capable of learning to read, write, and cast accounts when the weather was fitting.

Once a week he was to instruct them in some Orthodox catechism. For his services he was to receive the sum of twenty pounds in corn, cattle and butter at the prices current.

For the next one hundred and fifty years, school matters were discussed in town meetings and teachers hired, many of whom were Harvard graduates.

In 1801, however, a school committee, headed by Rev. Jesse Appleton was chosen at the annual meeting in March.

Rev. Appleton was minister of the Town of Hampton for ten years; his picture hung on the Chapel wall (at the Congregational Church on Winnacunnet Road) until damaged by a fire.

His ability as an educator is indicated by the fact that he left Hampton to become President of Bowdoin College.

His daughter Jane, born in 1806 in the parsonage off the Green (Meeting House Green), which stood on the site of the present house of Jerry Harkness (Landing Road), married Franklin Pierce, a Bowdoin graduate, who later became the fourteenth President of the United States.

Schools Built

In 1712, a school house was built on a lot east of the fort, which is the place where the Centre School stands, this site having now been the location of a school for two hundred and thirty-four years.

In 1807, the town was divided into school districts, commonly called East End, Center, Guinea, Bride Hill, Fore Road (later Portsmouth Road, now Lafayette Road) [Ed. note: This district school house is now at Meeting House Green, near the Tuck Memorial Museum at 40 Park Avenue and is fully restored], and Back Road (sometimes called Ireland or Blakeville, now Mill Road).

In 1825, brick school houses were built in the East End, Center, and Bride Hill districts.

My own schooling began when I was four years old in the Little brick school house at the Center.

There were about seventy pupils in the winter term, crowded into one room. The seats were straight boards with desks in front.

The little children sat on the front seats with no desks.

My first teacher was Porter Sanborn whom I thought a terrible man, for he roared at the misbehaving big boys in the back seats, threw pieces of chalk, books and once even the bell at them

He carried a switch which he flourished in front of the wiggling, whispering little ones in front. Once it hit my hand. I was heart broken, not because I was hurt, but because I could never say I had not been whipped in school!

I had a big sister near the back of the room. A row of scholars were standing for recital in front of the teacher's desk; so he did not see when a small girl slipped from her seat and on hands and knees, crawled under the seats back to the sister's seat, there to hear a whisper, 'Go back, quick!'

It was quicker to crawl back down the outer aisle, and the seat in front was reached safely. I have since wondered if the teacher might not have known what was happening, and might have chosen to ignore it. He had too much work disciplining the older pupils and hearing about forty classes to bother with a small girl.

The number of his classes was a little lessened by having the A, B, C readers and the 1 + 1 arithmetic classes taught by an older girl in the entry, which was also the wood room.

Lewis Perkins was the teacher soon after he graduated from New Hampshire College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts in 1871. He was much liked.

A picture of the school and their teacher standing in front of the brick school house was taken. I know of at least two of these pictures still existing.

In 1873, the brick school houses at the East End and at the Center were replaced by two-story wooden buildings.

We thought our new school house was fine -- ten foot ceilings, big windows, plenty of black boards and crayon chalk, not bits broken from a big lump, large maps and a tall coal stove. We took it as a matter of course that it was very hot near the stove and cold near the big rattling windows, that air came up through cracks so wide that a pencil dropped might roll down and be lost forever!

Feet itching and burning with "chill blains" resulted. 'What will cure "chill blains"?' was a common question. Recently, I said to a fourteen year old boy who was standing over a hot air register. 'If you have ever had chill blains, standing there may bring them back. Have you ever had them?' He hesitated a minute, then said, 'I guess not, for I don't know what you mean. I have never heard of them.' That shows one difference between school rooms of the past and the present.

While the new building was being erected, school was held in the Town House [Town Hall], which had ceased to be a church but twenty five years before. The unpainted square box pews around the room, two steps up from the floor were still there.

Also, the platform on which had stood the wine-glass pulpit now much lowered and used in the (Congregational) church. It was then lying on its side in the Town Hall wood room.

I well remember one incident of that summer session. I brought to school my four year old brother Ernest (G. Cole). He by no means kept quiet during school time, and when we were going out for recess, he stubbed his toe and fell down.

The yell he let out made the exasperated teacher, Mary Dow of Seabrook, hurry to me, exclaiming, "Take that child home and don't you ever bring him again!" I had planned to bring my two year old sister Hattie the next day, but thought better of it.

When the new school house was finished, the question as to whom should be in the grammar and who in the primary room, was settled by reading ability. Those who had read through the third reader were to go upstairs to the grammar school and the rest were to be down stairs in the primary department, entered by a separate outside door. I was proud to be a grammar school pupil.

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